Should Scottish Labour bin the council tax?

Tom Griffin
3 August 2008

Tom Griffin (London, OK): In today's Sunday Herald, former Labour Scottish Finance Minister Tom McCabe delivers a brutally frank assessment of Labour's diminished place in Scotland's political landscape, and one of the starkest calls yet for the Scottish Party to set its own agenda:

So how can Scottish Labour respond? First, with a leader who is seen to be in charge, taking responsibility and being prepared to say and do what is best for Scots, no matter who it might upset.

A leader who is prepared to publicly ask the government in Westminster, irrespective of its political colour, why companies such as Shell can make £8billion profit in six months while Scots can scarcely afford to fill up cars and vans.

A leader who will ask why we are not taxing gas companies that are making billions at the same time as they are doubling the energy bills of Scottish families.

A leader who wants to have responsibility for raising the money their government spends and be chastened by that accountability in the process.

Finally, a leader who accepts that the council tax has become an unfair burden: a tax that breaks the understanding of proportionality between the government and the governed.

McCabe's message has not been universally welcomed:

John Robertson MP, secretary of the Scottish Labour group at Westminster, said: "This sounds like Tom is looking to position himself for a job. I am disappointed in him. I thought he was much more of a comrade than that, but he obviously isn't."

While McCabe is critical of the SNP's proposed local income tax, his intervention will make it more difficult for Labour to defend a position that is subjected to some searching criticism by Joan McAlpine in the Sunday Times.

Oppositions must hold governments to account, so you would expect Labour to scrutinise the SNP’s plans. But Labour refuse to offer a progressive alternative to an existing system that causes widespread hardship. Worse, they gleefully support Westminster’s refusal to hand over Scotland’s £433m share of council-tax benefit, meaning a shortfall in revenue under the new system. So Scottish taxpayers would continue to fund council-tax benefit in England and Wales without receiving any themselves. Perhaps one of the Scottish Labour leadership candidates would like to explain why this is a vote winner?

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